Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dance For Me!

Imagine going through airport security, when suddenly a man ahead of you breaks out into a pirouette. Should you be alarmed? Is he crazy or is this the latest in avant-garde dance? No, its "racial profiling" in a post 9/11 world.

Dancer Abdur-Rahim Jackson was asked to dance as he moved through airport security at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Israel last Sunday night because his name is Muslim. Security officers wanted to make sure Jackson was indeed a dancer.

"I demonstrated a few dance steps and after another round of questioning they let me go and join the rest of the group," he told the paper. Jackson also clarified that while his father is Muslim, he is not and that his fiancée (also a member of the dance troupe) is Jewish.

The incident was reported and at times criticized in the Israeli media. "The security guards should be sent home or (the airport) will become a mental asylum," said Motti Kirshenbaum, a veteran commentator and host of the Channel 10 TV program.

But should they? Generally speaking, it is unconstitutional for law enforcement to stop individuals based on his or her race, ethnicity or nationality alone. Such actions naturally raise concerns of racism and bigotry. But is our common sense aversion to racial profiling relevant when "generally" implies peacetime, but Israel is in a perpetual state of national emergency?

Israel is a regular victim of terrorism by Muslims. This is not to say that all Muslims are terrorists. But it is a clear reminder that all terrorists against Israel, and now the West are Muslim. So, any security officer doing his or her job is looking for Muslims. It's an unfortunate reality. But Israel didn't create the bias, terrorists did. And for everyone's safety, Muslims must accept greater scrutiny.

After 9/11, Israel is not alone in its security concerns. Racial profiling is a constant issue in the West, from Germany, to the UK and the US and Canada. Racial profiling is not something that should be permitted in times of peace, but it has become necessary for an indeterminate future.

This is not to say that human rights and civil liberties organizations do not have legitimate concerns. They do. Racial profiling has a history of racism in the United States. American racism against African-Americans relating to the disproportionate road stops of vehicles driven by African-Americans has been dubbed by the ACLU as "driving while black." Moreover, the possibility of abuse of authority, or bias motivated retaliation in the name of security, is a real concern.

Moreover, the anxiety and undue scrutiny placed on the individual is unreasonable, a violation of equal protection and demeaning. Also, the profiling of African-Americans is overbroad when no context or a particular pattern of criminality is offered to connect an entire race (or other trait like religious affiliation) to greater scrutiny. For example, African-Americans are not waging a war against the state.

But the Israeli security situation and the need for racial profiling in the west after 9/11 is distinguishable. Muslims today cannot argue the same. The only common thread law enforcement has to go on at the inception of investigations related to the "war on terror" is Islam. Therefore, all Muslims must bear the burden in order to keep non-Muslims and innocent Muslims safe.

Just as the enemies for Israel are anti-Israeli Arabs and Muslims, the enemies for the west are Muslims as well. Admitting that racial profiling is necessary will allow law enforcement to articulate a policy. Israel knows who the likely suspects are and their security officials scrutinize accordingly. It may result, at times, with odd results as the dancer in the airport, but such actions keep the country safe. The West needs to do the same.

By articulating an honest profile of the enemy in the "war against terror" can we move towards a policy for greater national security, especially in the area of immigration and transportation. This will allow for greater transparency and accountability of security measures, but at the same time allow security officers to do the job they need to do to keep Muslims non-Muslims in the West safe.

Muslims need to do their part and accept more detailed security checks as a necessary and temporary need while the war on terror continues. "Special" lines or greater questioning secures their safety as well as those they travel with.

Source: By Supna Zaidi

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